Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We Shall Be Changed

We will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. 1 Corinthians 15:51 NIV

Sign on a church nursery door: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” As a teenager, I worked for a Nazarene church on Sunday mornings, where I was in charge of 20 to 30 babies every week. My helpers and I changed every child’s diapers multiple times. We learned that even the stinkiest substances wash off with soap. But I don’t think that kind of changing is quite what the apostle meant!

Let’s go back to Paul’s discussion: what happens when Jesus comes. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, 57, 58 NIV

It’s been quite a year, filled with long hours, events and projects that came to fruition, accomplishments at church and work, improving the home and garden, struggling with a healthy lifestyle, and challenges in the family. Some of us lost jobs and income, lost friends in relationship changes, lost loved ones to death, lost savings or pension to the economy...

The important thing to remember, though, is to not lose heart, but give yourself fully to whatever work God calls you to do. All that labor, though it may seem foolish to a secular-minded person, is not in vain. It’s not silly to God. He values the efforts we make. Who has not assigned a task to a child or subordinate, and thought, “I could finish this in a tenth of the time it takes me to teach it.” Creator-God could speak or even think the word, and it would be accomplished, but how would we grow or learn, or value the fruits of our labors? The very acts of planning, executing, and following up, are the methods God uses to change us.

Change, whether it’s lifestyle or attitude, is difficult when we attempt it alone. Trying to be good is completely impossible! But Jesus said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 NIV

He can do it in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Part of Waking Up

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 CEV

You have to love that Folgers Coffee commercial where they show the good-looking young man returning home to surprise his family on Christmas morning, and three generations awaken in a delightful mood, with perfect hair and no facial pillow marks, to drink coffee in their jammies and celebrate the reunion.
What a scene. We have total recall of that best of all Christmases, until we really do wake up and smell the coffee, and realize that Hey! That never happened! The commercial makes you nostalgic and misty-eyed over an experience you never had.
What really happened is: your sister’s family is broken and her kids are split between households every holiday; your son can’t make it because he has to work on Christmas; your mother and her new husband would just like to spend the holiday in a “low-key” way with a restaurant meal and TV specials (meaning without interference from relatives); and your favorite aunt or uncle passed away right around Christmas last year. Instead of a Waltons Homecoming or Touched By an Angel Christmas, you got a Simpsons or Malcolm in the Middle (in other words, horrifying) Christmas.
Unrealistic expectations (especially those generated by a marketing firm) can make real-life special occasions seem bitter or sad. But remember the times, both Christmas and everyday, when God turned it around: when all your plans crashed, but church members or neighbors invited you to fellowship in their homes and treated you as family. Or you volunteered at the homeless shelter and found peace in acting as the hands of Jesus. Or you just stayed home alone in your unattractive-but-warm fuzzy robe and a mug of coffee. God is faithful and has not forgotten you.
The LORD’s…compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22 NKJV
“The best part of waking up” isn’t what’s steaming in your cup. It’s the brimming heart of God, whose mercy and compassion are new every morning!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Incarnation--Made himself nothing

Christ Jesus… being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6-7 NIV

I’ve always thought of this song as a Christmas reading! It speaks of the pre-existence of Jesus as God, and the miracle of the Creator taking the form of His created. It speaks of His life and death, His glorification, and His justification before the world that He is Lord of all.

He “made himself nothing.” The Creator of the universe, an infinite being, took the form of a microscopic zygote, embryo, and fetus. He developed a spine and tail, large eyes, and gecko-like fingers. His arms and legs lengthened, His heart began beating, his brain made patterns, and He sucked His thumb. He could hear His mother’s heartbeat. As He grew larger, He crossed His ankles and drew up His knees. He developed in every way as we did. When He was born, He cried and needed milk and diaper changes.

As Jesus grew he played with the neighbor kids and scraped his knuckles and shins. He rolled down hills and climbed trees, and helped with the harvests and flocks as a day laborer. As He learned to read, He apprenticed to the building trade. As he matured, His voice deepened. Fathers thought He’d make a great husband for their daughters. The town knew Him as the kindest, most helpful kid ever.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” 1 John 4:2-3 NKJV

Fully human, fully divine, even as a “nothing.” But being made in the image of God, this One reflected the love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness of the Abba Father, as well the human body and blended DNA of his ancestors going back to Adam and Eve.

Jesus’ authority, power, and glory were always there, but He lived His life as one of us, taking no power of His own, but showing us that even as lowly slaves, we can do anything in God’s power.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Unto Us is Given

To us a child is born, to us a son is given. Isaiah 9:6 NIV

I wanted to be a married mother of children. I planned early to be a piano teacher, so that I could be a work-at-home mom. I saved my journals, photos, and favorite toys as a heritage for my children. I worked with my mother on our family genealogy.

The hundreds of children I taught for fifteen years, both one-on-one, and in classes, are my kids, minus the sleepless nights and diaper duty. It’s true that I’m very proud of the lasting effect I’ve had on their lives and of their progress as adults and musicians. I still get invited to their weddings and grand occasions. They send Christmas letters and pictures of their babies. Through a Christian agency, I sponsor young girls in Indonesia and Uganda. But face it, at the end of the day, students and sponsored children are not my children.

But just as Jesus came to be my Savior and my Brother, and introduce me to our Father, He is Emmanuel, God-With-Us. He gives me membership by birth and by adoption into the family of God. His incarnation means that He is also my Son, my Child, and my heritage. I can share in the promise He gave us in Scripture, that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 NIV

At my church, the pastors are inclusive of childless women, and call us “Mothers in Israel.” They recognize the influence and ministry we have in counseling, teaching, and befriending children who think their own parents are members of any species but human!

As Christian friends point out, in the New Earth, I may be a mother at last. The Lord comforts me with the promises that I will have sons and daughters (Isaiah 49:21-22), and that I have a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

And you'll say to yourself,
'Where on earth did these children come from?
I lost everything, had nothing, was exiled and penniless.
So who reared these children?
How did these children get here?'"

The Master, God, says: "Look! I signal to the nations,
I raise my flag to summon the people.
Here they'll come: women carrying your little boys in their arms,
men carrying your little girls on their shoulders.

And every time I sing, in Handel’s "Messiah," the chorus “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” I get teary, but with joy. I do have a Son, and He can’t wait to come back to fetch me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

God-With-Us. Always!

The Word became a human being and lived here with us. John 1:14 CEV

Christmas is the celebration of God-With-Us. In ancient religious systems, the gods were localized to certain places or their spirits were confined to a territory or container such as a wooden idol or a stone shrine. When people traveled or emigrated, they worshiped specific gods in specific places, or they took their idols with them (Genesis 31). The gods were capricious, vindictive, killed each other in power struggles, cheated on their spouses, and accepted human sacrifices—even infants.

So when, on the exodus from Egypt, the God of Hosts traveled with the Israelites, that was remarkable! A first! Here was a God who was personal; involved; protective; nourishing; healing; compassionate; Who fought battles and resolved conflict; who designed and implemented holidays, festivals and rest days for the former slaves; and who cared so much for their comfort that He shaded them from desert sun by day and warmed and lit the night for them. Unlike the gods who wreaked vengeance upon any whim, this God demonstrated that He was a forgiving God. He promised a present and future of blessings if they remained in His tender care.

Generations later, when the children had rebelled and forgotten, God repeated His plan for reconciliation. To His people in war and exile of their own making, and subject to the “gods” of their exile, He spoke: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God-With-Us].” Isaiah 7:14 NKJV

Wherever God’s people were or are, He is God-With-Us. I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20 KJV) We can’t leave Him behind. He won’t abandon us when our closest companions do. And He’s not done with us in this short life span and at the end of this old world. He promises everlasting life to His children, and His presence continues forever!

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. Revelation 21:3 NIV

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Immanuel, full-circle

The Advent season is the celebration of God With Us. The angels who proclaimed Jesus’ birth were evangelists who carried the “good message” that because of Immanuel, all is well. They spoke peace on earth between God and mankind, a sabbath-rest from our own useless works of salvation, and God’s favor and good will, the gift of His perfect, unending love with the only power to save us from sin.

The prophecies and covenants God had made with believers were fulfilled, or filled up and running over, by Jesus. Immanuel, God-With-Us, dwelt with our parents in the Garden of Eden. He walked with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and certainly with many others not recorded. He proclaimed Himself “I AM” to Moses, and said that He would go with Moses and His covenant people. The Lord appeared to them as a pillar of fire and cloud. His Presence filled the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temple.

When the Jews languished in exile, God said, I'll make a covenant of peace with them that will hold everything together, an everlasting covenant. I'll make them secure and place my holy place of worship at the center of their lives forever. I'll live right there with them. I'll be their God! They'll be my people! Ezekiel 37:24 MSG.

When God came to experience humanity as one of us, an angel said, “… You, Joseph, will name him Jesus—'God saves'—because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us"). Matthew 1:20-23 MSG.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV.

During His ministry, Jesus said, “I AM the Door,” “I AM the Bread of Life,” and other “I AM” statements recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus was here among us.

At His ascension, when the Messiah gave the Great Commission to His followers, He said, "I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18 MSG.

And when the perfect love relationship and world God intended from the foundation of the world is realized, the Lord says of that fulfillment of our salvation, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. Revelation 21:3 NIV.

Whether or not you believe in a “Christmas” celebration (some people consider it pagan custom to be avoided), you must believe in Immanuel’s advent. Although it’s difficult to conceive from our finite human vantage, God has been with us before the foundation of the world, in eternity past. He is with us now. And He will be with us for eternity future. We are celebrating Christ’s advent every day that we’re new-born in Him.

That’s joyful, peace-filled news. That’s good news. That’s evangelism.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Word and wordlets

Christmas music is ubiquitous this month: on TV and radio, in the malls and grocery stores, the mp3 player plugged into your head, and jangling from the brightly-blinking animated zoo in the neighbors’ front yard. We’ll hear a lot about sleigh rides and bells (even if we live in a Mediterranean or desert climate—or south of the equator), chestnuts roasting, having a merry little Christmas, Santa Claus, and the legend of a drummer boy present at the nativity. At church, surely we’ll sing Joy to the World, Silent Night, and O Come All Ye Faithful.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Why is Jesus characterized as The Word? Dictionaries define “word” as

the smallest unit of language,

a conversation,



an expression or authoritative utterance,

a promise,

a proverb, and

a hypostasis for divine wisdom.

In Latin, “word” doesn’t mean a motionless noun, but verbum. Verbs act and move.

In Greek, logos means word, thought, principle, or speech.

In the gospel of John, first chapter, we read the soaring song of salvation: that in the beginning-before-the-beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14 NIV.

That’s certainly the most famous reference to Jesus as the Word. But there are many more references to both spoken word and written word in both Testaments. Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV says, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Jesus is not only the Word of God, but He is the Author of our salvation. (Hebrews 2:10.)

In Revelation 3:12 NIV, the Author tells His believers: I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord declares that the old covenant, the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2), has been broken, but He will create a new covenant: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

That is what Jesus, the Word and the Author of salvation, did to our wickedness: forgive and forget. It’s not stored in a computer chip or written on paper in a giant book. We are written in the Book of Life, Jesus Himself. Jesus is life. Every word I've spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. John 6:63 MSG.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were a letter, written on his heart of love, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV.

We are epistles written from God’s heart, and dare I say, written on God’s heart. Ah! Not only is our Lord “The Word,” but because we are His children through creation and adoption, we are also words—maybe “wordlets” (to coin a word). He has written His words and His will upon our living hearts, and He dwells within us.

What an incomprehensibly gigantic gift is wrapped up in the small collection of letters that we read as “Word.”

As I read the story of Jesus’ birth this season, I will meditate on each of the secular definitions of “Word.” In them there is much to learn of our sacred Word.

…..In the beginning was a small unit of language (from God to His children).

…..In the beginning was a conversation.

…..In the beginning was communication.

…..In the beginning was an authoritative utterance.

…..In the beginning was a promise.

…..In the beginning was a verb.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hearing God’s voice

I'm thanking you, God, from a full heart, I'm writing the book on your wonders. I'm whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I'm singing your song, High God. Psalm 9:1-2 MSG

In 2004 and 2005, I was so blessed to write and edit the devotional book, We Shall Be Changed. It will be published in hard cover by Review & Herald Publishing Company in 2010. So grateful to God!

Although I wrote more than 90 of the 365 daily essays, this book is an anthology of many authors’ spiritual insights. Planning the content and theme, developing the author guidelines, finding the cover art, pushing the authors to meet deadlines, tweaking (often rewriting) their essays—it was a challenge, but a positive one.

Then, when it was accepted by R&H in 2009, I worked hard on the manuscript again, reformatting, finding 365 new Bible texts in the best version to illustrate the articles, fine-tuning articles again, replacing weaker articles with strong new ones, and much more. I’m so grateful for the contributions of talent and time by all of the 50 or so We Shall Be Changed authors.

But the best and biggest blessing was unexpected. Many in my denomination are fairly inhibited about showing emotion in religion. Raising hands in worship or prayer, clapping, even saying “Amen” louder than a murmur—usually frowned upon. If I claimed to have heard God speak, well, break out the restraints and haul me away, boys!

There have been times when the Lord spoke to my mind or made a Bible text almost jump off the page. But this book experience has been different. I’ve found God everywhere since I started this book. When I’m walking the dog, cuddling the cat, driving, listening to a song, pruning the garden, watching a secular show on TV—I’m in a mindset where I see lessons from the Lord. God speaks to me in His whisper, His still, small voice.

This is a fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant, that God Himself would personally speak to our hearts and minds. Some people call it conscience. Others know by experience that there are supernatural messages from God that cannot be explained or understood in the same way by any other person. Some messages were just for me. The Bible verse I read meant one thing to the original audience, and another thing to me when God directed my mind to its meaning for my life. An instant messaging session or phone call becomes a way for God to speak to a hurting person through me.

The miracle is: I hear Him! And it’s my heartfelt prayer that you will hear His voice speaking to you when you’re exercising, lying wakeful in bed, waiting for your plane, or doing dishes, but especially while reading these blog articles—and the book when it’s released. The Lord is there, speaking all the time.

I wonder if God speaks to everyone in a continuous stream, and only rarely do we perceive a word or phrase as being from Him.

This GOD says: “I am GOD, the one and only. I don’t just talk to myself or mumble under my breath. … I work out in the open, saying what’s right, setting things right… I promise in my own name: Every word out of my mouth does what it says. I never take back what I say.” Isaiah 45:18-23 MSG

Thanks be to God for His words to us, whether written, painted in nature, or exhibited in the actions of those around us. Open your eyes and ears—He’s got words for you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sweeping waves? Surging tides? Bring it on!

(Originally posted elsewhere, November 2008)

The United States has elected new leaders at the national, state, and local levels. Some propositions, notably the ones connected with morality, have made history. The joy and optimism of the majority of voters is matched by millions of people who are deeply unhappy at the election results, and look at the next several years with fear and depression.

And speaking of apprehension… This turnover occurs during a severe, worldwide financial crisis. Financial planners forecast a recession that may not improve for two to four years. The news outlets broadcast a flood of business closures and bankruptcies. Many people have lost their jobs, homes, and retirement investments even though they were carefully managing their assets and resources. Those with savings are prudently holding back on frivolous spending.

While researching this article, I received a “robo-call” that began (before I hung up): “Don’t be alarmed, but this is your last chance to receive a lower interest rate.”

A few days ago, millions celebrated Halloween or Day of the Dead (October 31 and November 1) with not only candy and costumes, but a keen interest in death, monsters, demons, vampires, and rivers of fake blood. What seems incomprehensible is why people live in a state of fear, and then spend money on books and films to frighten them further.

And there are the rumors and conspiracy theories that in case of a security issue or large-scale chaos, we’ll be rounded up, stripped of human and civil rights, and society reduced to a police state. Actually, such fear is not new: remember when Baby Boomers were taught that “duck and cover” under steel and Formica school desks could protect us from nuclear blast?

What we need is a shot of courage. Strength of character that comes from faith that God is in control. Remembrance that the God who calms the cyclone also calms the storms in our microcosms of the world and in our hearts.

Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you…I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:7-8 NLT.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by impending disaster, and sense the repeated waves of a tsunami threatening your safety and peace, remember that the Lord “pours his unfailing love” on us. The psalmist is not talking about our perception of coming disaster, but (oh, this is good!) God’s life-giving love surging and sweeping over us, and that is occasion for singing and praying! If there’s anything we need, surely it’s the Lord’s infinite, redeeming love carrying us on the crest of the wave.

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:11 NLT.

One of the memory verses burned into our minds is “perfect love casts out all fear.” This text, in context, bridges the centuries since John the Beloved wrote it, and speaks to us just as freshly today: And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect [complete/mature]. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:17-19 NLT.

Again, we are reminded that God loves us. Jesus meets fear and vanquishes it with love. God has graciously given us adoption as His beloved children (by creation) and heirs (by adoption and the death of Jesus). Out of the beautiful passage in Romans 8:14-19 is this jewel: You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

There’s a belief that the Bible contains 365 occurrences of “do not fear,” one for each day of the year. A concordance search will show that it’s not a true count. It’s actually an underestimation. The Bible is packed with literally thousands of phrases like “fear not,” to “be of good courage,” to “be still” or at peace, that the Lord calls us by pet names, that He is our Shepherd and we lack nothing, that we are loved and protected, that He rescues and saves us, that there is now no condemnation, and that He’s coming soon.

There is a wonderful piece of advice that the mature, experienced Paul gave to young and inexperienced Timothy, who would be ministering during turbulent and extremely dangerous times. He wrote, I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 NLT.

That is the roadmap for times like these. This is the right time for the message. The milestones are prayer, helping, interceding, giving thanks, and bringing people back to fulfilling relationship with each other and with God. The destination is reconciliation. And remember, although we walk through hard times hand in hand with God, the end-time tribulation is not for us – we are sheltered under God’s wings. We are aliens in this world, but citizens of an eternal kingdom.

Jesus is the One who brings wholeness to our lives. He, being the Spirit of love, casts out fear. If He is for us, who can be against us? Jesus is the tsunami of love and grace (Psalm 42).

That means you should take off your shoes, roll up your pants legs, and dive in, shouting triumphantly all the way, “Bring it on! No fear! No fear! No fear!”

Friday, October 30, 2009

The promise: intimacy

For years, each of us has studied Hebrews 11, and with each example of fidelity and trust in God by the heroes of the Bible, we learn. We apply their tactics of strength in the face of opposition and trust in the face of doubt, following the whisper of God where we cannot discern the next footstep on our own. Faith is taking hold, taking possession of the title deed that we cannot see, but is more real than we are.

BY FAITH, Abraham. BY FAITH, Moses. BY FAITH, David. They did amazing, worthy, historic acts. But is that what pleased God? No, it wasn’t what they did – it was what they believed about God: that He was able to, and cared enough to, fulfill His promises.

When I needed reassurance, I read Hebrews 11 and sucked in my tummy, dried my tears, and let out a cleansing breath. It was all good until I got to the end of the chapter, and then my resolution collapsed. There we learn that people of faith held out despite torture and death, waiting for their promise to be perfected (matured).

That’s where the book says that “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11:39-40 MSG)

But not one got their hands on the promise? Not one of those amazing heroes literally took hold of the title deed to what God said would happen? But they still believed?

So what was the promise? Was it for wealth and land, successful crops and fertile livestock, a loving spouse and happy children, freedom, security, long life, influence and power, beauty, or physical perfection?

The promise was repeated throughout the ages, in all the scriptures. In the Garden, God walked and talked face to face with our parents (Genesis 3). Immanuel, God-With-Us would come and live with us (Isaiah 7 and Revelation 21). God would be our God, and He’d be intimately known by us (Jeremiah 31:33-34). There would be a Ruler from among us who can approach God’s Presence (Jeremiah 30:21-22). Christ in us is life (Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:10). He will appear a second time to save those waiting (Hebrews 9:28). And we will not only worship Him, but actually partake of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

The new covenant is this: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12 NIV.)

The new, superior covenant is that God offers intimacy, instead of being separated from us by prophetic symbols, analogies, types, and a written code of regulations. Those things, like toys and art supplies, were given to teach us what God is like, but not to distract us from what His heart is saying. Instead of being separated from us by a temple veil, He became the open Door, the Way in to Abba’s throne, the mercy seat of grace. Now God is real to us.

The promise that millions have died for and believed in was that Jesus is the reality when all else is shadow or reflection. What we humans perceive as solid and measurable is the vapor; and the God we can’t see or touch, define boundaries for, or understand – is the reality. We are aliens in this physical world, but we are citizens, the royal family, in His kingdom of love.

To our finite minds, this concept is upside down and inside out, that what God offers is intimacy. We’ve seen Him as remote and untouchable, harsh and judgmental, and by beholding that lie, we’ve been changed! But seeing God’s compassion, mercy, forgiveness and boundless love is why those heroes of faith were willing to go through such trials, such pain, such separation from what they loved, but held loosely. For the promise of intimacy, close contact with the Most High God, they held tightly to His hand, they obeyed the Voice, they lived as nomads and settled new territory, they braved the best-equipped armies on earth with songs of praise – and won!

Whether married or single, we crave close contact on every level, and the need for intimacy is as vital as air and water. We want to be touched emotionally and physically by those we trust. A friend says that her elderly mother wells up with tears of joy when her son-in-law takes her into his embrace.

We want to be known in more than a superficial glance, more even than for the image we project, but for the secret heartbeat of our God-given passions and obsessions. We want to be KNOWN. Intimately known by a trustworthy person. We need to be loved and touched, to connect on every level.

And that is what God offers. That is what those heroes lived and died for. They knew it. They had the Promise in their hearts, the Promise that Immanuel would walk and talk with them as a personal Friend; that He would tenderly wipe away their tears with His own hand.

“Regarding [your name here], I can't keep my mouth shut, regarding [you], I can't hold my tongue, Until her righteousness blazes down like the sun and her salvation flames up like a torch. Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.” (Isaiah 62:1-5 MSG.)

Who doesn’t want to hear the divine whisper in our ears, “You are my delight”? Who doesn’t want to be a cherished, precious jewel, held high in the hands of God for all to admire its beauty? That unimaginable privilege is offered to you as a gift.

And the only way you can accept the gift is by trusting that Jesus Christ is the reality when all of this world is shifting shadows. That is faith. When we are filled with that love, our hearts expand to take in more, and the love spills over to those around us. It’s not only a good feeling, love. It becomes a choice and an action, helping the unloved, the desperate, the needy, the lonely – the lost, whom Jesus came to seek and save.

“It's impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 MSG)

He cares. He responds. He offers what you crave. Why resist? Reach up and take hold of the Promise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The parable of the weeds

They will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil…. Matthew 13:43 NIV

Last July, I took out some really big weeds growing behind the vegetables. These weeds were huge. Treelike. Their stems were an inch across, and woody. They topped the six-foot fence. I pulled and tugged, and perspired heavily while batting away gnats. When those roots wouldn’t loosen from the east side, I dived through the thick green pine needles to get to the west side and pull from that direction. I did finish the job, but was too late to prevent the weeds from seeding the plants that I need to pull now. The seeds were almost invisibly tiny, borne on the wind with white cottony fluff.

When I first moved here, I planted a blue morning glory vine. It was truly beautiful, but it took over the yard and climbed the fence (and grew through the wood slats), as if making for the Canadian border. It can grow a meter a day on every runner! It invaded the avocado tree, stunted the pine tree, and choked out other plants. So I tried to eradicate it. I killed the main stalks, but the runners have taken hold everywhere, coming up 30 feet away from the source. It’s a never-ending job. I can’t pour poison on the vine or pull it up without killing the desirable flowers and food-bearing plants that co-exist in the yard.

Until now! This is harvest time for the annual plants, and like Jesus’ harvesters, I let the plants and the weeds grow together, then collect the weeds to be destroyed. (Unlike Jesus’ field, my weeds will be back next year, but for now, it looks clean and orderly, and the winter sun can reach the soil and prepare it for the spring plants.)

Jesus said that weeds, symbols of the sons of the evil one, are pulled up and burned in the fire, but the good grain and fruits, representing the sons of the kingdom, are harvested by the angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:40-43 NIV

Even a city kid like me understands that parable! Won’t it be wonderful when Jesus comes to collect us in His grand harvest and glorifies our bodies to fit His kingdom? The promises He has made, He is faithful to fulfill.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

My late mother said not to use the word “cootie.” I’m about to disobey, not for the first time. Cootie is slang for louse, but to every eight year-old, it just means that someone is untouchable, contagiously germy, or emanates uncool vibes. I’m a few decades past eight, but I still use the word. If you greet someone at church with a smile and explain you have cold cooties, they understand the greeting, but not to shake your hand.

We knew cootie people in school. There was always at least one class geek whose clothes were dirty, had body odor, knew every arcane bit of trivia but couldn’t keep a conversation progressing, or played alone because they were shunned by the cool kids. I was not cool, but not cootie-ridden, either. I felt sorry for the cootie kids and treated them kindly but distantly. But I’m glad I did, because some cootie people became good friends.

It’s still that way. We know loners, social misfits, and nerdy adults at work, church, begging at the freeway onramp, possibly in our neighborhoods or extended families. Horror of horrors, maybe you’re a cootie person right now!

You know what? You are. We are. And have been since Adam and Eve tripped over their first bramble. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV) Filthy, shriveled, windswept. Definitely cootie-ridden. In Romans 3, Paul said no one is righteous of themselves.

But hear the word of the Lord: we have been given Christ’s own robe of righteousness to replace our rags. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24 NIV

By creation and redemption, we are doubly children of God, and royalty of the universe. Sometimes it’s good to be “all washed up.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birthday musings

This post ran on my Rooting for Ancestors blog in October 2008.

Most of my ancestors in medieval times never lived to be 50 years old. In fact, 35 was pushing menopause, and if a woman had had 12 or 15 pregnancies, she was either extremely robust and lived to be 85 – or she’d die giving birth at 25 or 35. Many of the men died in middle age, too, not always from war injuries.
John of Gaunt died at age 59 of natural causes. Reverend John Robinson, persecuted pastor of the Puritans before they sailed to America on the Mayflower, died in 1625 at age 50 in Leiden, Holland. Once my ancestors emigrated to America, their lives stretched into their 70s and 80s. My grandparents lived into their 80s, and Grandma Opal Carter Robinson was 98 when she died.

I was 29 when my mother turned 50, and I was 34 when she died of chronic lung disease at 55. Although she was extremely ill, and suffered more from her medication side effects than the asthma and emphysema, she lived a remarkable life.
Judith Anson Robinson only had a high school diploma; and although she had an academic scholarship offer to university, she was unable to use it with her extreme health challenges. She married Kenneth Robinson at age 18, and after a year they moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where the air was dry and breathable. Judith always had a stack of library loaners and how-to books across many subjects, and she took extension classes with the local PBS station and a syllabus.

She was self-taught at bookkeeping, but she successfully managed the family business and finances, took on the IRS in court, and won.
She was an accomplished, award-winning artist who worked in acrylic paint, chalk pastels, watercolor, ink, clay, and other media. Some of her artwork is photographed HERE.

She only had a few years of piano lessons from a small-town nun who was quick to rap knuckles on mistakes – but she became a wonderful piano teacher who taught on a piano earned by selling cosmetics. In fact, while my dad’s income was managed carefully, and we always lived on a cash basis, the piano teaching money paid the tuition for my brother’s and my Christian-school education.

Judith was either too sick to attend church often, or was warned by the doctor not to, because of her compromised immune system. But she knew her Bible intimately, read Christian books, and watched Christian TV. She had strong views on right and wrong, and could have
taught an ethics course on the community-college level. She was always interested in the “why” of behavior and thinking.

And she started with an inherited, inaccurate family tree and turned it into a pedigree so large and complex that software programmers in Salt Lake City had to enlarge version one of the Personal Ancestral File because her vast body of research wouldn’t fit into their parameters. She began in the 1960s and blew away the programmers with her little 128K Macintosh in 1984. No Internet. Just land-line phone and snail mail.

So my mom did all this and more in spite of her illness. When I’ve had a cold or flu, and I’m feeling rotten, I wonder how she got anything done, much less her list of accomplishments.
I’ve followed my mom’s lead in many ways: love of history and genealogy, performing church music, teaching music, expressing my creativity in writing and graphics, a tenderness for animals and nature, gardening, and lots of other interests.

But I wonder if any of this has affected anyone but me. What has been the effect of my existence in this world? Have I lived up to my potentia
l – done all that it’s possible for me to do with the advantage of excellent health and advanced education? Has my writing touched hearts or changed thinking? Have my music students’ lives been enhanced by my counsel and my teaching? Have I been an inspirational example to one person? Has my friendship or fellowship enriched another person, and how? Have I been an instrument of God, to bless others?

My 21-year-old mother kept a journal of the last few weeks that she was pregnant with me. She and my dad visited a model home that they moved to when I was a few months old. They visited friends from their young-people’s group at the Baptist church. Mom fretted that I was three weeks late in coming; and she was embarrassed to be so heavily pregnant and buying castor oil to hurry the onset of labor, when the pharmacist knew what it was for. (Oh, the shame!)
Mom even took the little red journal with her when she went to the hospital in labor with me.

Here’s the journal entry for October 15, 1958, the day I was born:
I’ve loved my baby for such a long time. Yet the joy I feel today as I hold her in my arms is beyond words. Praise God for the blessings and the happiness that we have in Christy, and we pray, with grateful hearts, to do the Lord’s will in raising her. Regarding the choice of her names: Christy is a feminine derivative of Christ, meaning “follower of Christ.” Kay is the word “rejoicing” in Old Teutonic. It is our hope that the name will truly describe her life.

On October 16, 1958, my mother wrote:
Between you and me, Baby, you might as well know that nobody in the world has ever loved a baby like you’re going to be loved by your mother. I’ve been saving up a part of myself for a long time and I’m going to start spending it on you. Surely this must be similar to the love Jesus has for us. I can see beyond the pink face and little slanty eyes to a beauty within you. It makes me so happy to look at you that it feels as if something in my chest will burst.

I wish I could talk to my mom and ask for her assessment of my 50 years of life. Have I created a worthy body of work? Have I proved my worth to my employer, church, friends, and society in general? Do I have a legacy? Have I fulfilled Mom’s hopes? Have I been faithful to the calling of God? Do I have a beauty of spirit? Do I have a measure of my mother’s taste and style? Is my thinking process logical and deep, or just quirky, lazy, and shallow? What about my relationships? Do I
have the qualities of compassion, love, mercy, and justice that God requires? Have my fluttering butterfly wings displaced any air?

Fifty is just a number. It’s seven in dog-years. As one of my birthday cards says, it’s three and a half in giant-redwood-years. But it’s also the next check-box down the survey, a less-desirable demographic to marketers and sociologists.
My ancestors, even if they died young and we know nothing about their lives, nevertheless passed on their DNA and influence, for good or ill, to their children.

What will I leave in my wake? Maybe I have the same amount of time left to live as I have lived already. Maybe I’ll go earlier from accident or disease.
There’s an axiom that says to live every day as if it’s your last. Now how is that possible? We must plan and act as if we have decades left. We have responsibilities and commitments to friends, family, and community that will pay off both now and down the road.

But maybe that’s
my sense of responsibility rearing up, and realization of the fact that I’m single, independent, and have no backup but God. (Which is not a bad thing!) I doubt that those 13th-century ancestors thought their progeny would think of such things, 800 years later.
My mom was about 26 in that photo, old enough to be my daughter, if I'd had children. But it does make one think about generations and what-ifs, not to mention: If every woman becomes her mother, does she eventually become her grandmother? Or does she become a composite of her foremothers at a certain point in her human development?

One of my blogger friends turned 30 three days after I turned 50. She described her domestication from intense college student to settled and satisfied wife and mother, becoming comfortable with finding bargains, gaining some baby weight, and (literally) juggling baby and computer keyboard. One of her friends mentioned feeling comfortable in her skin.

There are times I’ve been comfortable in my skin. And times when I’ve felt my skin itchy and tight, as if the relative humidity is in single digits and there’s not enough moisturizer in the world to soothe me. Those are the times when, like a reptile, it’s time to shed the old skin and step out into a new era, vulnerable to change. And predators.

When I was almost 18, it was time to leave my childhood friends, and to some degree, my family, and move 360 miles away to university. I was a little homesick for a week or two, but quickly adjusted to the enervating experience. As a musician, I went from big fish in small pond, to guppy in a lake. But I found my own jobs, fought my own battles, changed my major from music education to communications/print media, matured in my thinking, learned who and how to trust, and discovered some techniques for dealing with people that I still use today. On my visits to my parents’ home, I saw my 40-year-old mother as a woman with a college-age daughter over whom she was losing control and influence. (What my mother didn’t realize was how much influence she would regain as I aged.)

After university, I moved to Los Angeles to work with college friends. I was severely injured in a fall at age 23, and moved back to Phoenix to restart my life. My parents moved my furniture back from California, and were thrilled to have me back under their roof for a year and a half until I finished physical therapy and could move out again.

When I was 26, I loved a man with all my heart for several years, but he didn’t return the sentiment. After my parents, this man has had more influence on my thoughts and actions than any other human being. He taught me critical thinking (ironically, in a roundabout way), and that has affected every area of religion, politics, my writing, and relationships with others. At the same time, my world opened up with the introduction of new friends and activities, a change of career, and a general blossoming of opportunities. This was a similar age to my mother’s in that picture. In real time, my mother was 47 when I was 26.

I became very involved in church activities and became the Arizona singles ministry leader for my denomination. At the same time, I was teaching music at a Christian high school and elementary school, as well as taking students in my home. Over about 10 years, I worked for several churches as keyboardist and choir director. I edited and designed brochures, newsletters, and magazines for several organizations.

Then, in a short period, I was forced to shed my skin again. I was replaced at the Christian high school by a crony of the principal, and lost more than half my music students. Another cluster of students had to quit because of the recession that followed the Gulf War. A couple of female friends turned on me and I lost their fellowship. My financial-mainstay freelance editing job of six years was given to someone else after the president of the organization lied to me and about me to others. My spiritual and intellectual mentor moved to Australia. My mother, who’d nearly died one year before, became even more ill and passed away 11 days after Christmas. A car pulled in front of me and my car was totaled, and I re-injured my bad knee. Any one of those things is a risk factor for fatal illness!

The Lord was looking out for me, and although finances were tight, I was never in danger of failure. I had wonderful friends (in fact, we’re still friends after more than 20 years). I had a townhouse mortgage and a decent vehicle. Some of my lost teaching income was made up by a part-time job as church secretary at my family’s church. But the deeper one is involved in an organization based on deeply-held beliefs and values, the harder it is to compartmentalize one’s worship and one’s job. I’d be driving down the freeway on my way to church (for service and worship), and feeling road rage. Then some people in that toxic congregation got power-mad and made some assumptions about me that were untrue. So my skin got tight and itchy again!

At that point, a couple of friends and I spent an afternoon and evening in fellowship and prayer – about me – and my life changed again. I applied for positions in communications in California, and was asked to interview. One freelance writing job led to an interview nearby, and that became a job offer.

Uprooting my life, home, four elderly cats, and leaving my students and families, and the (nice) church where I worked as music director was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Getting established in a community where I knew no one was very lonely – and expensive! After two years in a rental house, I was able to buy a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood. Eventually, there was recognition, trust, and friendship. A nearby university, my alma mater, headhunted me, and I changed jobs.

But 19 months later, despite high ratings for the quantity and quality of my work, I got a new boss who decided to replace me with his brother-in-law. The weasel used his subordinate to “resign” me while he was out of the country. And I became jobless for seven months. Wow, there goes another skin, if not another cat’s life!

While I was vulnerable and tender again, I learned something very deep. I trusted a few Christian friends (of several denominations) with my deepest feelings and asked them to pray for me. They actually thanked me for the confidence and trust I’d placed in them; and said that they were privileged to be used by God to help me.

Although I had some emergency savings, some vacation pay, and a little unemployment, it was only enough to live on for three months, tops. But I always had enough money to pay bills, mortgage, and offerings at church during those seven months. God has a different math and accounting system than humans can figure out.

I was offered a job as writer and editor for an international Christian organization, and was given latitude to do quite a lot with it – until the administration changed over my head again. Do it this way, we love your work, but change it, no change it back, take this out, put this in, you can’t do that unless it goes through many layers of administration, we’re reorganizing the corporate structure and changing your title (to a lower level), etc. There was a wide variety of projects, though, from producing a bimonthly magazine to writing and editing books, video scripts, display ad design, and many other media assignments.

And at the church where I’ve been highly involved in music and other activities, there are some very real problems with people and finances. Based on studying the fundamental beliefs of my denomination, I’ve decided that there are several that I cannot support. My friends, my culture, and (until recently) my job are tied up in that denomination, and I remain there for reasons of fellowship and relationships. Perhaps God wants me to remain in my local church so I can continue to influence and inspire. But my skin is feeling tight and itchy and uncomfortable. In fact, my hands and feet feel like sandpaper on silk.

So turning 50, I’ve decided, isn’t about feeling comfortable in one’s skin, but being flexible instead of spastic. It’s recognizing that life comes in fits and starts. A birthday is just another turn of the flywheel, or another season in the endless cycle of seasons. That’s what maturity feels like.

Maybe this is what I’d tell my 26-year-old mother, the pretty woman whose gentle hand protectively covers the little hands of her children.
...Keep on keeping on.
...If you feel strongly about justice, then don’t worry about being “nice,” just stand up and do what needs doing.
...Don’t procrastinate: the job only gets harder, the longer you wait.
...Don’t go out without nice clothes and makeup because you can’t make a first impression a second time.
...Work hard and do your best for your own sake. You always represent your family, so be honorable at all times.
...Your name has a meaning, so live up to it.
...Treat your pets and garden tenderly.
...No one can resist having their hair ruffled and back tickled until they go to sleep.
...Love nature and not man-made amusements.
...If there’s no word for what you want to say, invent one.
...Don’t waste your brainpower with stupid entertainment – there’s little enough time to learn valuable, useful information.
...The difference between knowledge and wisdom is application and experience.

But those are things I learned from my mother. So how could I teach them to her? How did she learn them? Is there something to the “inherited memory” belief? (The concept seems paranormal or occult to me.) Is there such a thing as native intelligence? Was she a genius, or did she maximize average intellect?

Knowing her as I do, and as a daughter turns into her mother in so many ways, I believe that her interests in humanities and her study of relationships and genealogy gave her a sense of who she was, her place in the universe, her standing with God, and a real pride in all the thousands of lives that synthesized into the chromosomes of one being named Judith Anson Robinson.


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